FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How They Rip Us Off

What’s the fastest growing corporate crime in America?

Corruption? No.

Pollution? No.

Market manipulation? No.

Securities fraud? No.

Give up?

It’s hidden fees.

It’s how the giant credit card, cell phone, cable, and banking corporations nickle and dime you to death.

And there are literally scores of hidden fees with more being proliferated every day.

Bounce a check? That will be a $39 bounced check fee.

One day late on your credit card payment? That will be a $39 late payment fee ­ and we’ll hike your interest rate from the introductory 0.00 percent to 15.99 percent.

Towel fee.

Towel fee?

Yeah, you get one of those deals from Priceline on a swank hotel.

And you show up at the hotel and get hit with a $30 a day resort fee ­ including a towel fee.

In case you go to the pool and use the towels. Or even if you don’t. Pay the fee.

Here’s one of my favorites ­ the ATM denial fee.

You go to your ATM machine and ask for $400 in cash.

You get back a note from the ATM machine saying ­ sorry, but your daily limit is $300.

So, you ask for $300.

The machine spits out the $300, you grab your card and walk away.

Next month, you get your statement.

And there it is ­ $1.50. ATM denial fee.

Bob Sullivan has written one of the best consumer books of recent decades ­ Gotcha Capitalism: How Hidden Fees Rip You Off Every Day ­ and What You Can Do About It (Ballantine Books, 2008)

Call him the Upton Sinclair of the modern corporate jungle.

It has yet to be reviewed by the mainstream press, but on the weight of a couple of interviews on National Public Radio, it has already broken into the New York Times Paperback Advice Top Ten.

And that’s not an easy list to break into. Five of the top ten books on that list are diet books ­ with the top two being Skinny Bitch and Skinny Bitch in the Kitch.

If there were a top ten corporate crime books of all time list, Gotcha Capitalism would be on it.

In an interview with CORPORATE CRIME REPORTER earlier this week, Sullivan said he knew something was up with the book because every time he’s interviewed about it, he gets a few minutes into his pitch and the interviewer interrupts with a horror story.

And in fact, that’s how Sullivan compiled the stories for his book. A couple of years ago, he was in New Orleans covering Hurricane Katrina for MSNBC.com.

And he started a blog called the Red Tape Chronicles about the problems facing victims of the Hurricane.

But pretty soon, people were contacting him from all over the country about consumer problems of their own.

And soon, it became pretty clear that corporate rip-offs were a huge problem.

Since starting the column two years ago, he has received 50,000 e-mails message from consumers around the country.

It became clear that the biggest culprits were credit card companies, banks, cell phone companies and cable companies.

Sullivan conducted a survey of consumers nationwide, asking them to identify hidden fees in their most common purchases. And he estimates that the average consumer gets hit with $1000 a year in hidden fees. That comes out to $45 billion a year.

But that’s clearly an underestimate. Consumer Reports says that hidden fees cost consumers $215 billion a year ­ or $4,000 a year per consumer.

That’s more like it.

And then you have your $25 billion a year that brokerage firms skim off your retirement funds every year for essentially doing nothing. Or the real estate fees when you close on a house. Sullivan has a whole book of them.

The rise of the hidden fee corporate crime wave parallels the corporate attack on consumer fraud enforcement.

Sullivan says that hidden fees have flourished largely because laws governing false advertising aren’t enforced.

“There are great folks who work very hard at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC),” Sullivan said. “They don’t like it when I say this, but the truth about the FTC is that in 1979, it had 1,700 full time employees. Since then they have become responsible for huge areas like identity theft, the do not call list, internet security. And our population has grown by 75 million since 1979. But today, the FTC has 1,000 full-time employees. So, they have been cut almost in half. The budget is more of a flat-line. And you see that same trajectory at all of the other consumer protection agencies.”

If you are having problems with high blood pressure or heart palpitations, or if you are manic, you might want to leave this book for another day.

I mean, do you really want to read that AT&T sought consultants to design a mailer so that you, the average Joe consumer, would be more likely to throw it in the trash?

And why would they want you to throw a mailer in the trash?

Because if you throw it in the trash, you agree to giving up your right to sue them if there is a dispute over your phone bill.

Do you really want to know that of the $80 billion dollars of gift cards pumped into the market every year, 10 percent ­ or $8 billion ­ are lost? That’s an $8 billion gift to the corporate criminal lobby?

Do you really want to know that the hidden fee rip-off artists have two complaint desks ­ one in Southeast Asia for the regular folks, and one in corporate headquarters in the USA for the sophisticates?

That’s right. Consumers are divided into two categories ­ suckers and sophisticates.

For suckers who don’t know how to complain, you get the help desk in Thailand, or India, or the Philippines.

For people who know how to work the system, and struggle to get their money back, you get the VIP treatment ­ and a good chance to get at least some of the ripped off money back.

I experienced this first hand earlier this month. The Verizon DSL at our home went out. I spent five days talking to very kind people at Verizon help centers throughout Southeast Asia.

Then one day, I wrote about my problems on a blog. It got picked up by some corporate person in the USA. And within 30 minutes of writing the piece, I got a call from Verizon telling me that someone from “escalation” will be calling me.

Within five minutes, Wendy from “escalation” calls me.

Within an hour, the problem is fixed.

I haven’t followed all of the presidential debates. But as far as I can tell, Wolf Blitzer hasn’t asked any of the presidential candidates about the fastest growing corporate crime in America.

Maybe that’s because the corporate criminals sponsor the debates or own the television networks ­ and contribute to the candidates.

In any event, the bottom line is you can buy three of Sullivan’s books for the cost of a bounced check fee. Or a late payment fee.

Buy a bunch and pass them around.

It teaches us how they rip us off.

And how to get to Wendy at escalation.

CORPORATE CRIME REPORTER is located in Washington, DC. They can be reached through their website.

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:
July 19, 2018
Rajai R. Masri
The West’s Potential Symbiotic Contributions to Freeing a Closed Muslim Mind
Jennifer Matsui
The Blue Pill Presidency
Ryan LaMothe
The Moral and Spiritual Bankruptcy of White Evangelicals
Paul Tritschler
Negative Capability: a Force for Change?
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: ‘Social Dialogue’ Reform Frustrations
Rev. William Alberts
A Well-Kept United Methodist Church Secret
Raouf Halaby
Joseph Harsch, Robert Fisk, Franklin Lamb: Three of the Very Best
George Ochenski
He Speaks From Experience: Max Baucus on “Squandered Leadership”
Ted Rall
Right Now, It Looks Like Trump Will Win in 2020
David Swanson
The Intelligence Community Is Neither
Andrew Moss
Chaos or Community in Immigration Policy
Kim Scipes
Where Do We Go From Here? How Do We Get There?
July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail